My four-year-old son will be entering kindergarten next year and it’s got me thinking about which school he will attend and what I believe about schools.
Schools should act as community hubs, creating relationships between families that endure for years and contribute to neighbourhood resiliency. This is particularly important in inner city neighbourhoods like ours.
Schools should contain a wide variety of kids, with as many income levels, ethnicities, ability levels, and other demographics as possible. Kids then learn that not everyone looks the same, thinks the same, talks the same, or lives the same. Homogeneity in schools means some schools end up with all the high needs kids and resource-strapped parents while others have a glut of parent volunteers and high achievers. I don’t think that’s the best way, either for the kids or for the society for which we’re preparing them.
One of the most important functions of a school, especially in the early years, is to teach kids how to be part of a group, manage interpersonal relations, handle authority, and work within a system. This is especially true of systems that aren’t perfect, as kids will encounter those throughout their lives. These lessons are at least as important as the academic ones we often think of first as the reason we send our kids to school.
Because of these beliefs, my husband and I will be sending our son to the neighbourhood public school.
Meanwhile, I’ve noticed many of my peers from around the area do not plan to do the same. When I hear why, it’s tough to fault them for it.
One reason is the desire for children to learn a second language, which drives parents to choose an immersion school. As a product of French immersion schools, I struggled with this one myself.
Others are motivated by the fact that their neighbourhood school is actually nowhere their home due to how the boundaries are drawn. If your kid is going to have to cross several big, busy streets to get to school, is it really in your neighbourhood at all?
Academics are a big concern. Since our local schools tend to have more high needs students, parents worry that their own children will not get their share of the teachers’ time and attention.
Social factors also play into it. As one mother pointed out to me, “environment matters.” Children are influenced by their peers. If those peers are involved in high-risk behaviours, it increases the risk that our own kids will follow suit.
For all these reasons, I understand being wary of the neighbourhood schools. But I also know my peers and I represent some of the most fortunate of residents in our neighbourhoods.
We are the ones with the resources to volunteer, to advocate, to help our kids with their homework, to have homes where other kids can come hang out and feel safe. If we all check out of the neighbourhood public system and take our resources with us, the worrying reasons that make us leery of it will only get worse, and our neighbourhoods will get worse right along with them.
In five years, I might be eating these words. I might be shell shocked and exhausted by the experience of engaging with an inner city public school. I might be wishing we had sent our son to French immersion in a suburb somewhere. You never know.
But for now, although I admit there are some persuasive cons, I think they are outweighed by the pros. We’ve decided, for now at least, that the potential benefits to my son, my family, and my community of sticking with the local public school are worth it.
Featured Image: When choosing a school, think about what you want your child to get out of the experience. | Pixabay